'By working together, Leiden, Delft and Erasmus researchers can generate innovative research'

Interview with dr. Simona Vezzoli, LDE Centre GMD research officer based at Leiden University

Simona Vezzoli is one of two research officers at the new Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Research Centre Governance of Migration and Diversity. Based at the Leiden Institute for History, Vezzoli is a migration researcher as well as the centre’s new ‘matchmaker’ between researchers of the three universities and funding opportunities.

Right off the bat, what do you do as Research Officer at the LDE Centre of Governance, Migration and Diversity (GMD)?

"I am one of two research officers, the other one being Kimberly Seibel, who works in Delft. Our main task is to promote collaboration among faculty members of the three universities. We want to create innovative projects to harness the expertise that is available within the universities. In today's competitive world of funding, this will help us to stand a better chance.

As a research officer, I seek out possible collaborations between researchers from the three universities. I am working on new research proposals, which is one of the main goals of the LDE Centre of GMD. The institute is fairly new - it was founded this year - and its main goals are to advance research and education as well as engagements with stakeholders in the area of governance of migration and diversity."

Simona Vezzoli

   What matters is that, by working together, we can complement each other’s research.

Can you tell us about your background as a researcher?

"My research focuses on the root causes of migration. Before coming to Leiden, I conducted research at the International Migration Institute (University of Oxford) and the University of Amsterdam, where I researched the underlying processes and mechanisms related to migration decisions – the motives and the conditions that made people decide to migrate at a specific point in time, to a certain destination and following a specific migration channel.

Although my research focuses on people’s migration decisions, I am also quite interested in exploring why some people decide to stay. For some people staying behind and adapting is more appealing than migration. So, I look at migration not as a problem, but more as a societal process that takes place anytime, anywhere."

What have your first weeks as a research officer been like?

"I spoke to many people to get to know the faculty and get a sense of the research interests present in our universities. At the same time, I am constantly looking at the latest funding opportunities to see if there are any grants that we can pursue. For example, if we find a new funding opportunity within one of the EU funding schemes, we reach out to our LDE network to explore whether there are any researchers whose interests match the funding call. If so, we make contact with the researcher, start discussions about the possibilities and eventually draft and carry out a plan to prepare and submit the proposal collaboratively.

This job requires a lot of social interaction as it involves networking and staying updated on research across the faculty. What makes this job even more enjoyable, is that it requires creativity to spot opportunities where they might not be so obvious and to propose these to researchers."

Is the governance of diversity and migration a new field of study?

"The simple answer is no; migration and integration policies have been around for a long time. And certainly, these policy areas have been studied before; there have been many studies on the effects of migration and integration policies. But perhaps the name of the institute, which refers to the study of Governance of Migration and Diversity, reflects current times and growing efforts in trying to find solutions to what are perceived to be key social problems."

Can we expect more collaborations between Leiden Humanities researchers and Delft or Erasmus researchers?

"Yes of course! We should have no disciplinary boundaries. Topics such as migration and diversity are interdisciplinary in nature. Our strength is that our expertise lies in different areas. What matters is that, by working together, we can complement each other’s research. In that way, we can create research proposals that are both innovative and creative."

   A centre like ours, through the combination of research, education and outreach, can make a difference.

As a research officer, are there any opportunities to work on your own research?

"At the centre, we are encouraged to propose our own ideas and submit research proposals. I intend to submit one in the coming months. At the moment, I am supporting research proposals led by researchers in the faculty and at the three universities. In the last decade, before taking on the role of research officer, I was lucky to have worked on large ERC projects. Not so large in size, but very ambitious in their nature. Such projects demand a lot of energy and dedication. So, I am keen on supporting projects led by other researchers, as I begin to shape proposals for my own research."

Why do you think it is so important for this centre to become a success?

"Everyone is aware that migration and diversity have been a major part of the public debate, and it is a crucial research topic for the scientific community. It is difficult for research findings to make their way to the public, and to influence policies. A centre like ours, through the combination of research, education and outreach, can make a difference. We can disseminate research findings and reach out to the right people, whether they are students newly working in the field, or directly to policymakers who are dealing with issues of migration and diversity.

There is a role for a centre like the LDE Centre of GMD to reach out and guide policymakers if they reach out to us. Migration has always been part of society, and it will continue to be so. If you are knowledgeable about migration, you realise that the way it has been presented is misconstrued. With our knowledge, we can try to diffuse some of the fear and anxiety that we observe in society. We can help the conversation, or perhaps even open doors for new directions in the conversation."

Do you think that academia has failed to successfully communicate knowledge on migration and diversity to the broader society?

"Yes and no. It is clear that the knowledge in our field does not always reach the realm of policymaking. But, of course, policymaking is not solely based on scientific evidence. In my personal opinion, I think that being good at research does not necessarily mean being good at communication. What is expected of scholars sometimes goes beyond their area of expertise.

These days academics are encouraged to participate in training, for example with journalists, to improve their communication. That is great, but perhaps it is potentially also part of the problem: an academic might be interested in analysing the mechanisms that influence migration decision-making, but the insights might be very nuanced and not easily packaged in catchy soundbites or a clear policy solution. So, to ask an academic who is interested in such conceptual questions to make societally relevant contributions, that might not always work as intended. However, a centre like ours can also help in this regard."

Text by Ifang Bremer

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    Interview with Simona Vezzoli - Leiden University